From our marriage & parenting contributor, Mary Carver.
I don’t remember getting a lot of advice before I was married. This may be the result of a faulty memory; after all, we’re talking about 16 years ago. Or it may be because most of my friends and family stuck to the party line: “Don’t get married. You’re too young.”
Those helpful folks were half right. We were certainly too young to get married, but we sure did it anyway. I’m glad – but I do wish we’d gone into the rest of our lives, forever and ever amen, with a little more wisdom. Okay, a LOT more wisdom – and especially in the area of finances.
Over the past decade and a half, my husband and I have made so many mistakes with our money. (SO MANY.) Today we’re feeling optimistic, though I’ll admit we’re still paying off some of our more recent and long-lasting mistakes. So while I’m certainly no expert on family finances, I do have a list of things I wish we’d known about money before getting married. We’ve figured them out along the way, the hard way. My hope is that if I share them with you, you won’t have to!
Practice living with one salary. This is actually the one piece of advice I remember hearing in the days before my wedding, but as a young, stubborn, modern girl, I ignored it. Because I wasn’t going to “just” be a stay-at-home mom! I was going to work! I couldn’t wait to work! And I would always want to work!
Right. You can see where this is going, can’t you? As it turns out, living within one salary is good preparation for times of unemployment or underemployment (we’ve had both, huzzah!) – even if both spouses continue working. And, what you don’t know at the ripe age of 20 is that you might change your mind on how much you want to work later in life.
Save now. And if you don’t need two salaries to pay your bills, you can save a whole lot of money when times are good. As it turns out, you should also try to save a little when times are hard, too.
Plan to give it away. (And then, you know, give it away.) Though I grew up going to church, I wasn’t necessarily taught to tithe (give ten percent). Though my parents and my in-laws are giving in their own ways, neither my husband nor I were taught how to align our giving goals with our financial priorities. The importance of this is different in each family, but we’ve grown in our desire to give more over the years – and wish we’d made choices early on that allowed us to give more now.
All the years we’ve spent paying ridiculous interest on credit card debts or car loans add up to a lot of years we’ve missed out on the gift of giving. We look forward to the day we pay off our last debt and can help others more.
Just because you are approved, doesn’t mean you should. Speaking of credit cards…
Actually, I’d say this goes for every kind of loan: credit cards, vehicles, homes. I’m not saying that it’s bad to have a car payment or a mortgage! What I’m saying is to really consider the reality of what a bank will give you compared to what you can truly pay back.
That starter house might be your home for 20 years. The one time we made a good choice (without making a whole lot of bad ones first) was when we shopped for our first home. Now, we made a whole lot of first-time home-buyer choices. Don’t even get me started on the wisdom of buying a house without a basement in a place very near the inspiration for The Wizard of Oz! But when the bank pre-approved us for a large amount, we said no thanks. We bought a house for much less than we were approved for, which is good because we’ve had many months (years? yeah…years.) of barely scraping by when even that smaller payment seemed impossible.
It’s also good because we’ve lived in our first home – our STARTER home – for almost 12 years now. Thank you, real estate market crash! And that leads me to…
Something always comes up. House repairs on that starter home you can’t sell? Check. I’m not talking about a tear in the screen door either. I’m talking about replacing an entire sewer line from your [only] toilet, under the house, through the front yard, to the street. And if such a thing happens and you’ve slacked off on your savings plan or don’t have any wiggle room in your budget because you’re using every penny of every salary, then you’re in big trouble.
Not all home repairs cost thousands of dollars, obviously. But something – daycare tuition increase, basketball shoes, speeding ticket – always comes up.
And ignoring it does not make it go away. I mean, maybe you wouldn’t try this strategy. But just in case you would, let me tell you it does not work. (Don’t ask me how I know!)
Those are the big things my husband and I have learned, the hard way.